Sunday, May 28, 2023

Dominion Lawyer's Next Case: AVANGRID vs. New Energy Economy

Group head told to retract claims of illegal acts by utility company


Defamation lawsuits aren’t easy to win but if anyone can win them it’s attorney Elizabeth "Libby" Locke.

She has a made a career of taking on – and winning – big defamation suits including, notably, as one of two lead attorneys representing Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News  in the case that settled for an astounding $787 million for her client.

Fresh off that high-profile case, Locke is wading into the nasty fight between AVANGRID and the Santa Fe-based advocacy group pushing fighting to stop the merger between the state’s largest utility and an international energy company looking to invest billions in renewable energy in the Land of Enchantment.

In a letter sent by Locke’s firm Clare Locke to New Mexico’s Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of the Santa Fe-based advocacy group New Energy Economy, Locke demanded Nanasi “immediately retract and correct the false and defamatory accusation you made about my client” during a recent radio interview about her efforts to oppose the merger. Locke represents AVANGRID, the company seeking to merge with PNM, and Iberdrola, the parent company of AVANGRID. The letter was sent to Nanasi earlier this week and reviewed by The Paper on Friday.

According to Locke, Nanasi appeared on the April 14th episode of Retake our Democracy radio show in KSFR, a local radio station based in Santa Fe. During the show, Nanasi allegedly said that AVANGRID and its parent company Iberdrola “literally have bought out judges, bribed judges.” She was not challenged on that claim by the interviewer and offered no evidence to support her claim.

Nanasi, as a practicing lawyer, should know better than to accuse judges of bribery, Locke says.

For her part, Locke knows her way around a defamation trial. In addition to winning a $787 million settlement against Fox News, Locke also won $3 million from Rolling Stone magazine for the University of Virginia and forced the magazine to retract its story alleging rape culture in the fraternity system. She and her husband and law partner have a boutique legal practice specializing in high-profile defamation claims, according to their website.

Nanasi’s New Energy Economy seeks to "disrupt the current energy model"  by intervening in regulatory cases involving utility companies. She has scored some wins by intervening in regulatory and court cases to oppose or change requested rate increases before regulators. Late last year, AVANGRID’s application to merge with PNM was rejected in the PRC in part because of testimony and filings organized by Nanasi. That denial is pending appeal before the State Supreme Court.

Most recently, Nanasi publicly accused AVANGRID and regulators of engaging in secret ex parte negotiations that would effectively dismiss the appeal and allow a rehearing of the merger. Lawyers for the PRC and the utilities disclosed the negotiations in court filings and say there were no improprieties.

New Energy Economy has a history of scoring hits in these regulatory cases, but now it appears the utility is preparing to hit back in court. “You, of course, have a right to advocate for whatever causes you choose, but you do not have a right to flat-out lie about my client,” Locke wrote to Nanasi. The letter concludes with this ominous warning: “This is not a complete statement of my client’s rights, all of which are expressly reserved.”

Does that mean AVANGRID is preparing other court action to follow? A spokesperson for AVANGRID declined to comment but you can bet an attorney with her record of taking defamation cases to trial and winning doesn’t just take cases to write letters.


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